If Superwoman Were a CIO…

Amanda Sims Issue 10 - March/April 2014, Technology Leave a Comment

ServiceMaster’s former CIO, Linda Goodspeed, doesn’t just have it all. She also does it all.

It is safe to say that Linda Goodspeed, former Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Senior Vice President of ServiceMaster, is a morning person. While at ServiceMaster, every day began at 4:30 a.m. with one hour of exercise followed by a homework session. (She is currently earning a doctorate degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Technology Entrepreneurship.) She was in the office by 6:30 a.m. and taking meetings by 8 a.m.—if not earlier on those insane days.

Goodspeed_Linda_quoteManaging projects consumed 50 percent of her day; 20 percent was dedicated to Information Technology (IT) strategy and planning; and she spent the remaining 30 percent completing the various activities one simply cannot plan out as a CIO. Goodspeed also liked to devote that time to mentorship, development and communication.

Somehow, she usually managed to get six to eight hours of sleep. She even bought a Fitbit armband to keep track of her sleeping patterns—a very appropriate purchase for a techie. But such is the life of a disciplined, C-Suite executive.

Goodspeed joined ServiceMaster in October 2011 and worked across the company’s many brands—like Merry Maids, Terminix and American Home Shield—in functional areas to make sure the right technology was applied to any one business in order to grow that group. During her time with the company, she developed a cohesive team through mentorship and training while executing a three-year plan to stabilize the IT Department. Goodspeed resigned from ServiceMaster in December 2013 to focus more time on her board responsibilities and financial advising business (she is concurrently a Managing Director of Wealth Strategies Financial Advisors) and to give back to leaders that follow her by applying her doctorate and teaching in higher education.

Goodspeed_Linda_image2Road to IT

Goodspeed grew up in Michigan surrounded by the automotive industry. She once dreamed of being a veterinarian, but ultimately went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1984. She joined Ford Motor Co. just after graduation and spent five years there filling various engineering-related roles.

In December 1996, after seven years in engineering management at Nissan, she moved into a General Manager of Cooking Products position at General Electric. Then there were stints as president and Chief Operating Officer of PartMiner, an online electronic components marketplace, and as Executive Vice President at Lennox Intl., a global manufacturer of air conditioning, heating and refrigeration products.

Goodspeed is not necessarily a career planner; rather, she chooses opportunities as they present themselves. Mechanical and electrical fields morphed into an electro-mechanical field over the course of her career, and eventually electrical IT merged with software development. Now, IT is merging with marketing through Web development and social media.

But her love for technology and new gadgets has remained constant no matter what position she filled. Goodspeed believes this love stems from her background in mechanical engineering and automotive design.

“I believe innovation and creation are exciting, and in today’s world that translates into technology change,” she said.

New ventures are what excite Goodspeed most, and IT, she said, is the core to that.

Situational Leadership

While Goodspeed has a core standard of goals she believes every leader should possess (see sidebar), the CIO describes herself as a situational leader—one who adapts to different circumstances. She is more direct during an emergency and more relaxed with planned-out situations.

“I tend to appreciate a calm, planned approach first,” she said.

Goodspeed also will never commit to anything without a plan B. She always, she said, has a secondary plan. While working at a former company, she encountered a situation in which one of their offshore suppliers was involved in fraudulent activity and at risk for bankruptcy. Goodspeed’s company was a loyal customer to this supplier and ultimately decided to stay with them.

She told the supplier, “We’re going to stick with you, but we’re going to have a plan B.” She took down the names of all the employees who worked on her account and arranged with a second offshore company to employ these individuals should their company go bankrupt. Protecting the employees came first. Fortunately, all worked out well and 100 percent stayed with her company’s account.

“I was absolutely transparent with the company we were with and transparent with the company they would go to, which is highly unusual,” Goodspeed said. “But I just wanted to protect the employees, be transparent, and they trusted me. I think trust is the core to building a strong relationship. To build trust, you have to prove that your word can be counted on.”


Mentorship & Talent Development

While at GE, Goodspeed learned two important aspects of leadership that she regularly incorporates into her personal management style: the value of mentorship and ways to develop talent.

Everyone at GE was paired with a mentor, and they were matched regardless of personality types. Goodspeed oversaw cooking products at the time and generally conducted herself as a polished, politically correct rule follower. The company paired her with the “rough-and-gruff” Vice President of Manufacturing.

“He would park his car right in the middle of the front lawn, and he just didn’t care what people said,” she explained. “He was the best mentor I’ve ever had because he looked at me and said, ‘Why are you following the rules? Never lose focus on why you’re here. It’s not how you do it, it’s what you do.’” Goodspeed’s mentor has long since retired, but his words still ring true with his mentee.

Goodspeed’s team at ServiceMaster created an internal, Match.com-esque IT mentoring program in which someone’s skills, needs and desires of where they would like to go were matched with someone who is already at that level in IT. The program was successful, according to Goodspeed, because it was not a top-down initiative but rather grown from within.

Also while at GE, Goodspeed saw the value of leading people away from their comfort zones. To develop well-rounded team members within ServiceMaster’s IT Department, she used a rotational program to stretch people and move them into new areas. She looked at different personality traits to see where people might be a strong fit. While an employee may be fearful at first, Goodspeed said, “They become a better-rounded person because now they know how things get done end to end.”

Team members could stay in their current roles if they chose to, whether they did not want added stress, they felt they still needed to develop in their current position or they simply loved what they were doing. All companies need core talent, but the opportunity to move should always be available.

ServiceMaster also offers opportunities for its team members to continue training. As IT introduces new technology, people are brought in to host group training sessions. There is also a website with links to online education.

“If you’re not getting trained and stretching your brain, then it’s your fault because [ServiceMaster has] every tool available to get you trained,” Goodspeed said of her former employees.


Stabilizing Technology

When Goodspeed joined ServiceMaster, she created a three-year roadmap to develop IT into a stronger function delivering the overall business goals.

Year one: Fixing. The first step in Goodspeed’s plan was to examine and adjust the company’s outsourcing to bring more core functions in house. She explained that outsourcing is an unavoidable part of every technology field these days because it is impossible to keep up with the latest changes: “I [tried] to structure IT to meet the needs of the customer,” she said.

After examining the department and translating customer needs to the needs of the business, Goodspeed identified the critical areas that needed to be in house. IT required people who were embedded in the company from business analyst and system integration perspectives as well as strategy, infrastructure and architects who understood the functions of IT. Having these areas in house, according to Goodspeed, allows the team to meet both business and customer needs more quickly.

“You can’t really outsource core functionality that builds an understanding of how you operate,” she said.

Year two: Stabilizing. Goodspeed was new to Memphis when they decided to have a job fair, and the city’s talent surprised her. She was shocked and delighted to see an “American Idol”-like turnout. Sifting through resumes, she found about 95 percent of the applicants to be well qualified, and all but two or three positions were filled with candidates from the local market. ServiceMaster hired more than 100 people.

With a talented team in place, Goodspeed went back to the basics. There was old hardware to repurchase, unsupported software to replace, old technologies to upgrade, and they needed to marry those changes with their current systems.

This meant spending money. IT is sometimes a neglected department, so the equipment’s length of life is often stretched to the point of incompatibility or failure. But Goodspeed refused to let this happen and divided the budget into the amount they needed to run the business, which includes infrastructure, and other projects that delivered business value. The former became mandatory. She also incorporated more governance and discipline into projects and created service-level agreements with ServiceMaster businesses.

Year three: Innovating. The final year on the roadmap was to grow the business and find ways to be innovative. The team looked at new mobility tools, platforms for improvement, business analytics and ways to interpret their data. Goodspeed is happy to convey that IT reached this final stage by the time she left ServiceMaster.

The most important part of IT’s transformation was the way it continued to incorporate its members into business units. Goodspeed added additional associates and physically moved IT people who supported a particular business unit into those businesses, even though they reported to IT. “I told [the business people], ‘These are your IT people, so use them.’”

Goodspeed saw proof of this method’s effectiveness during board meetings when businesspeople discussed IT individuals as their people—not separate from their units. “They really [had] full ownership of the technology, the direction, the strategy and the delivery,” she said.

As the IT team pushed through the final year of her roadmap, Goodspeed continued to evaluate the areas in which she could develop her team, provide mentorship and training, generate innovative ideas and use her leadership style to move ServiceMaster IT forward.

Amanda Sims is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.

A Guide to Successful Leadership

Goodspeed describes the core priorities to being a solid leader
Be Open

“I believe you have to have an open-door policy and an open mind. You can’t just get information from people who directly report to you. You need to reach down deeper into the organization and create relationships throughout all levels to develop a full understanding on happenings within the organization. This knowledge will lead to better decision-making.


“You need to listen because everybody comes with preconceived notions. You need to eliminate that bias. You also have to make people comfortable enough that they know you’re approachable. I think the worst thing you can do is dictate what people are going to do. Not only does that demotivate the entire organization, but it might ignore some basic issues that people know could have been course-corrected had you taken time to listen.”

Empower People to Lead

“I believe you need to hire excellence. When you hire excellent people, they really don’t want to be micromanaged. I really, really believe that I need to hire people who are better than me at what they do. As you move up in an organization, you become more and more of a generalist, so you need to hire someone who is excellent and give them free reign to do their jobs.”

Remove Roadblocks

“Even though you’ve hired excellent people, they still need to learn what to escalate and when to escalate. Some people are afraid to say their project is in trouble, but it is in the best interest of the entire organization to recognize issues quickly, add resources to address the problem and to move forward. So one of my biggest rules is to remove roadblocks and not be afraid to confront issues.”

Be Accountable

“I believe sometimes people just aren’t told that they are accountable for results, and then they point at someone else as being the problem for why they couldn’t deliver. When you tell people you’re accountable and I’m empowering you, they step up to it. They embrace it. It forces them to use their brains to solve the problems in front of them.”

Learn Constantly

“I’ve never cut the IT training budget regardless of how bad the economy was. That’s when people have the time to learn. I believe that everyone, especially in technology, needs to remain relevant, and that’s the way you really excite technology people anyway—learning about new innovation and applying it to the business. I don’t ever believe in cutting training.”

Be Transparent

“If you’re not absolutely transparent in your thought process and consistent, then you’re just fooling people. You need to solicit input from those around you and generate lines of open communication in order to move forward rapidly, allowing your business to sustain a competitive advantage.”

To see other featured executives from ServiceMaster, check out our archive.

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